Building Community in the Diverse Classroom:Engaging Students and Promoting Equity
Carolyn Corrado (SUNY New Paltz)Tamara Smith (Westfield State University)
AKD Teaching & Learning Preconference WorkshopEastern Sociological Society Annual Meeting
February 20, 2014
I. The Meaning of DiversityA. In its broadest application, usually seems to refer to race/ethnicity; important to be moreexpansive and inclusive in our definition when thinking about diversity in the classroom
1. Race/ethnicity, citizenship status, international student status, social class,first-generation college students, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc
II. How to Engage a Diversity of StudentsA. Provide a diversity of perspectives in different ways throughout the course (i.e., movetypically marginal groups into the core of the curriculum to combat their alienation from thecurriculum (Higginbotham, 1990))
1. Need to build it in during course design; becomes part of the fabric of your courses(versus one class period addressing the needs of a diverse population)
a. Reconceptualize course syllabi to represent various interlocking categories ofanalysis
1. Course readingsa. Can be helpful to include sources that are outside strictlysociological materials
2. Ancillary materials in lecture (videos, images, political cartoons, etc.)3. In-class activities4. Out-of-class assignments5. Presentations and creative final projects
B. Have all students examine their own positionality along lines of race, gender, social class, etc.1. Examine individual experiences with/of privilege and oppression, highlight thesimultaneity of these privileges and oppressions, and connect them to institutionalstructures and patterns2. Use the classroom space as a transformative tool where students who are normallymarginalized or feel silenced have a space to speak out
a. Change teaching style to allow for discussions on sensitive topics to developand take shapeb. Cultivate dialogue that challenges taken-for-granted assumptions and norms
2. Find common ground that transcends students and facultys differences (ex. throughthe shared belief in higher education/working towards a college degree)
a. Develop empathy for each others points of view, as our own personalbiographies only offer partial views
1. Hill Collins (1989) argues empathy begins with taking an interest in thefacts of other peoples lives, both as individuals and groups (23)
III. Strategies for Building Community Inside the Classroom and OutA. Use a variety of methods for breaking down barriers between students
1. Simple first step: Learn all students names by the end of the 3rd week of classesa. Call students by name during class discussionsb. Have students use each others' names when responding to student comments(can potentially provide a seating chart once everyone has settled into a pattern)
2. Have students do self-reflections and share parts with classmates3. Build in opportunities for students to speak with a variety of students throughout thesemester
A. Can build this into group assignments/projectsB. Breaking down barriers between students and instructor
1. Share the decision making. For example, invite students to make or alter curriculardecisions, such as choosing media clips to watch as a class that will illustrate an issue ofimportance for the course. Invite them to design meaningful and interesting tasks.2. Consider ice breakers to begin class and group discussions.3. Give students space to disagree with each other and the instructor, and coach themon how to disagree repectfully. Feeling safe to speak without ridicule is important. Askopen-ended questions with no right or wrong answers, and give students the ability topass if they arent comfortable contributing. 4. Be a role model for the values espoused in seeking community. If disagreement issupposed to be safe then be sure that it is safe to disagree with the instructor.5. Change your own language and behavior from yes but to yes and which does notnegate the point of the previous speakers point6. Be cognizant of balancing where you stand in the classroom, whom you talk to, look at,and greet*the above suggestions were adapted from K. Nevins, Building Community in theCollege Classroom
C. Outside of the Classroom1. Electronic Blackboards
a. Group discussions online, both by student name and anonymousb. Journal entries for themes of inclusivityc. Space to include personal journey insights to class material
2. Participation Assignmentsa. For some students, participating in class discussion may never be comfortablefor them, and regardless of how welcoming an environment we provide, theycannot speak freely in front of their peers. Offering alternative ways to expressopinion and knowledge of subject matter may be of utmost importance for thesestudents feelings of inclusiveness.
3. Opportunities for students to further discuss their opinions and make sure that theyare okay if a discussion becomes heated
a. Calling/emailing a studentb. Meeting with the student outside of class
IV. What NOT to do: Some Pitfalls of Well-Meaning TeachersA. Call out individual students that represent diversity to speak about their experiences
1. Only call on students that represent diversity when their group or a related topic isbeing discussed
B. The privilege walk (class activity/exercise)C. Creating a Black/White dichotomy while ignoring other issues of raceD. Oversharing of studentsE. Not recognizing boundary issues with students
1. What to do if a student is over-sharing in the classroom2. What to do if a student is personally traumatized by a classroom incident3. Becoming too available to students, students oversharing with instructor
Freire, Paulo. 1993. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 30th anniversary edition. New York:Continuum.
Higginbotham, Elizabeth. 1990. Designing an Inclusive Curriculum: Bringing All Womeninto the Core Womens Studies Quarterly 1 & 2: 9-23.
Hill Collins, Patricia. 1989. Toward a New Vision: Race, Class and Gender as Categories ofAnalysis and Connection The Research Clearinghouse and Curriculum IntegrationProject, Center for Research on Women, Memphis State University: 1-28.
hooks, bell. 1994. Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. NewYork: Routledge.
Nevins, Katherine J. Building Community in the College Classroom.http://www.bethel.edu/media/university/faculty/engaged-teaching/media/BuildingCommunity-knevins.pdf
Pollock, Mica, ed. 2008. Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real about Race in School. NewYork: The New Press.